Are We in the Era of “Peak Vinyl?”

Every once in a while, we hear arguments that we’ve reached “peak oil,” only to then hear about more oil field discoveries which drives down the price of gas. Look where a barrel of oil is today. But the peak oil position will come back again when economic conditions prompt some doom-and-gloom proselytizing.

Now Stereogum is warning of “peak vinyl.” After nearly dying out in 2007, vinyl sales have surged with double-digit growth year after year after year. Yes, it still represents a tiny, tiny slice of the overall music market, but it’s the one physical form of music that’s showing any growth.

Fine. But just like with China’s economy, growth can’t go on forever. Or can it?

Stewart Anderson has had enough. The frontman for noise-pop veterans Boyracer and head of likeminded label 555 Recordings has been releasing music on vinyl since 1991. But the well-documented manufacturing delays that have gone hand in hand with the format’s unlikely resurgence have finally pushed the artist/entrepreneur to the point of wanting to break it off with analog discs.

It’s early June, and Anderson has just heard back from a pressing plant about an order he made — and, he says, paid for in full — last December. The plant’s expected completion date: October 30, a full 10 months after his payment. “Clearly small labels can’t operate with money tied up for that length of time,” Anderson tells me. “I’m going back to doing cassettes and CDs. Everything about vinyl pressing is just awful right now. From poor quality [to] lack of customer service. Not to mention even distributing/selling the darn things!”

After an almost decade-long don’t-call-it-a-comeback, vinyl looks poised for a comeuppance. The capacity limitations troubling Anderson have been coveredextensively over the past year. Another focus of criticism and backlash has been the vinyl shoppers’ annual holiday: Record Store Day. Amid growing acknowledgement that vinyl may not sound discernibly better than other formats — just different — the next targets of (self?) mockery have been vinyl enthusiasts themselves; as evidenced, for instance, in a recent New Yorker cartoon, captioned, “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.” See, it’s funny because … well, you know.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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